Season 1

1x17 Miracle Man

Air date: 03-18-94
Writers: Howard Gordon and Chris Carter
Director: Michael Lange
Editor: Heather MacDougall
Director of Photography: John S. Bartley, C.S.C.
Documented Phenomenon: Psychic Healing

Episode summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

In Kenwood, Tennessee, in 1983, there has been a huge multi-car accident. One of the vehicles is engulfed with flames, and fire fighters work to save survivors. Out of the crowd of onlookers, Reverend Calvin Hartley walks forward. He holds the hand of a small boy, Samuel, and in the other hand, carries a bible. Reverend Hartley unzips a body-bag and Samuel begins entreating the charred body within to rise up and heal. The fire chief comes over to ask what Samuel is doing, and the Reverend explains that the boy is laying on hands. The fire chief tries to protest that the man is dead, but Samuel continues, and the fire chief gives up and goes back to work. Suddenly, the hand of the dead man moves, and clasps Samuel's fingers. Reverend Hartley mutters a hallelujah.

In the basement office, present day, Mulder and Scully watch a video of Reverend Calvin Hartley's tent ministry. Scully explains that the video came in from the regional office in Tennessee, but Mulder already knows of the Reverend Hartley, and his adopted son Samuel, who heals people by touch alone. According to Mulder, Samuel has been performing miracles for a decade now. But Scully tells him that the Kenwood County Sheriff's department feels differently, and that they have been trying to shut down Reverend Hartley and his son's ministry for some time. And now they have asked for help from the FBI to pursue a murder case, because several people Samuel was supposed to be healing have died of unknown causes while under his ministrations.

At the Miracle Ministry in Kenwood, Mulder and Scully walk past the crowds outside the tent before handing in their tickets and entering. Inside the tent, the service is beginning. Reverend Hartley welcomes people who have travelled far, but then goes on to apologise because Samuel can't be there that afternoon. The crowd makes disappointed noises, and Mulder and Scully exchange a glance. The Reverend promises that Samuel will be back in two days, and exhorts the crowd to believe.

After the service, Mulder and Scully approach Reverend Hartley and ask to speak to Samuel. The Reverend tells them that Samuel isn't there, and doesn't know where he is. Behind Reverend Hartley, Leonard Vance, the man Samuel brought back to life, reminds him that they're running late, and Reverend Hartley excuses himself and gets into the car with Vance. His licence plate reads B HEALD. As the car moves away, Sheriff Maurice Daniels approaches the agents and gives them the coroner's reports on the deaths connected to the Ministry. Daniels tells Mulder and Scully that Reverend Hartley was nothing before Samuel joined the Ministry, but now both of them are very wealthy, and Daniels is sure it's all fakery. Mulder points out that even if the miracles aren't real, it's still a stretch to accuse Samuel of murder. But Daniels is sure that Samuel is responsible, and tells Mulder that he's been missing since Tuesday and clearly doesn't want to be found. Scully has been reading the coroner's reports and says the only unusual thing about them is that no autopsies were performed. Daniels tells her that the ministry blocked autopsy requests on religious grounds. Scully suggests exhuming the bodies.

In a graveyard at night, the agents stand with the Sheriff as a backhoe digs up a coffin. Out of the mist, people appear carrying candles. They are lead by Vance, who demands that they stop the exhumation. Scully explains that they're investigating a homicide and that they're required by federal law to do post-mortems on the bodies. Vance protests but the Sheriff tells him they'll get an autopsy one way or another. In that case, Vance says, the Miracle Ministry will do whatever it takes to stop them. One of the deputies gives Daniels a message, and he tells Mulder and Scully that Samuel has just been spotted downtown. They decide to go and check it out, since their exhumation has been stalled.

At a seedy bar downtown, Mulder, Scully and Daniels find Samuel and he's drunk. He's clearly just been in a bar brawl. The Sheriff tells Samuel he's under arrest for suspicion of murder, but he allows Samuel to finish his beer first. Mulder asks the Sheriff what evidence he has to charge Samuel with murder, but the Sheriff is convinced of Samuel's guilt, and that they will find out how he did it soon enough.

Mulder asks Samuel if he's guilty of murder and Samuel nods. Mulder asks how he did it and Samuel tells him that the devil worked through him to kill people because of his pride and weakness. Scully is unconvinced, telling Samuel that something's missing from his story. Samuel asks if she doubts the power of God, and Scully says, emphatically, 'no'. But she doubts that Samuel is telling the truth. Samuel says that he can see people's sickness, just as he can see the pain in Mulder. Mulder looks surprised, and asks what pain it is that Samuel can see in him. Samuel tells Mulder that his pain is related to a brother, or a sister. At the word 'sister', Mulder suddenly looks interested. Scully angrily asks Samuel if he is doing some kind of a trick, but Samuel says he's not. Samuel tells Mulder that he lost a sister quite young, that someone took her away, and that it involved strangers and a bright light. Scully calls the Sheriff over, promptly. Had Mulder got there earlier, Samuel says he might have been able to help, but now his gift is gone. The Sheriff puts Samuel in cuffs and reads him his rights. But Samuel interrupts to tell Mulder that God is watching, and that he should look in his heart and open his eyes. Scully looks disgusted.

At the Kenwood County Courthouse, Samuel's lawyer argues for Samuel to be released without bail, but Samuel stands up and tells Judge Hamish Purdy that releasing him is not a good idea. Reverend Hartley yells at Samuel to shut up, and Samuel ignores him, telling the judge he mustn't let him go. The judge sets bail at $100,000, just as the court room begins to fill with flying insects. Thousands of them fly around the room, landing on everybody. Samuel stands up and asks how much more it will take for people to believe. He claims that the insects are proof of God's vengeance against him. He raises his arms to heaven as people flee the room.

In her motel room, Scully examines one of the insects at close range as Mulder reads the passage about the plague of locusts from a Gideon bible. The 'locust' Scully is examining turns out to be a grasshopper, and Scully points out that in farm country, they're not uncommon. Mulder says that may be true in a cornfield, but swarms of grasshoppers are uncommon in court rooms. Scully asks if he is still troubled by what Samuel said to him in the bar the night before. Mulder ignores the question, but shows Scully doctors' reports that he's had sent over from Kenwood County hospital on people who Samuel claims to have successfully healed. The cases all show complete and miraculous recoveries.

Mulder thinks Samuel is for real, and that Samuel treats people as electromagnetic systems, repairing their energy fields, and in the same way can also kill them by destroying those energy fields. But Scully argues that even if this were true, Samuel has no motive for murder. Before Mulder can respond to this, there is a knock on the door.

At the door, Vance tells Mulder and Scully that the reverend would like to see them. At Reverend Hartley's mansion, the Reverend apologises to the agents for his rudeness and asks for their forgiveness. He tells them that Samuel is innocent and that he needs their help. Reverend Hartley claims that Sheriff Daniels is framing Samuel because Daniels fears Samuel's powers. Daniels' wife, Hartley tells them, suffers from a painful disability, but Daniels won't allow Samuel to help her. Scully points out that Daniels can't be blamed for his opposition, in light of the recent deaths. Hartley says he doesn't know how those people died, but he asks that they attend the service that night to see Samuel heal people. As he says this, Mulder looks out of the window and sees his sister standing on the lawn. He excuses himself and runs outside, but there is nobody there. He looks up and sees Samuel watching from an upstairs window.

At the Miracle Ministry, Vance welcomes people arriving. He reassures Margaret Hohman, in a wheelchair, that Samuel will be there that night, and arranges a position in the front row for her. But back stage Samuel is refusing to go out after what's happened. Reverend Hartley tries to convince him that God is merely testing Samuel's faith, and that Samuel must not forsake his gifts.

In the audience, Mulder and Scully take a seat, and the Reverend walks out onto the stage, telling the audience that God is there that night, to heal. He introduces Vance as an example of Samuel's healing abilities, and suddenly Mulder sees his sister again, standing inside the tent. He clambers through the crowd, trying to reach her, as Samuel goes up to Margaret Hohman and asks her to pray with him. As they pray, Mulder runs through the crowd, but loses sight of his sister. Margaret begins to choke and seize. Scully pushes through the crowd to help her, but Margaret goes limp and Scully tells Mulder that she's dead.

Outside the Kenwood County Hospital, Vance tells gathered Ministry members that they must campaign to keep Margaret's body 'intact' as an autopsy would be a desecration. Inside, Scully tells Margaret's parents that the only way to find out how she died is through an autopsy. As the parents discuss what to do, Scully asks Mulder who he was chasing in the crowd earlier, and he tells her he thought he saw someone he knew. Scully asks if it was his sister, and Mulder says he's seen her twice now. Scully suggests that maybe he just wants to see her, but Mulder hisses that he's not delusional. Scully urges him not to discount the power of suggestion. Margaret Hohman's father tells them that he and his wife will allow Scully to perform an autopsy on their daughter.

In the autopsy bay, Scully sharpens her knife. She states the time as 11:21 pm, and the date as March 7th. As she begins the autopsy, Mulder looks away. An hour or so later, Scully shows Mulder lesions on Margaret Hohman's lungs. There's also damage to the mucus membranes. Scully says Margaret died of cellular hypoxia--a lack of oxygen to the cells. Mulder asks what would cause that. Given the pathological evidence she's found so far, Scully says her guess would be injection or ingestion of sodium or potassium cyanide, or maybe arsenic. She wants to run a toxicology screen, but the lab won't be open until the morning.

At the Kenwood County Jail, Mulder finds Samuel sleeping in his cell. He tells Samuel he's going to have him released. Samuel asks him why, and Mulder tells him that Margaret was poisoned, and that he doesn't believe Samuel was involved. Samuel says that whatever the cause, he is responsible, but Mulder says that Samuel will be released at his arraignment the next day when evidence suggestive of poisoning is presented. Mulder asks if Samuel can still see his pain, but Samuel says he sees nothing--that he's blind. Mulder tells him that he's seen his sister, that Samuel made her appear. He asks Samuel if his sister's alive, or if it's a trick. Samuel asks if he means a trick of the devil. Frustrated, Mulder leaves.

Outside he meets the Sheriff, and tells him that he came to ask for Samuel's release. The Sheriff refuses, and Mulder says that Samuel seems determined to stay anyway, but he believes the real homicide suspect is still out there. After Mulder leaves, a deputy introduces two men into Samuel's cell, telling Samuel he's got company. As the deputy walks away, we hear Samuel being thrown against the bars of his cell and repeatedly beaten.

At Sheriff Daniels' house, the Sheriff answers the door to Deputy Dennis Tyson. Tyson tells Daniels that they had an incident down at the jail, and that Samuel is dead. Back at the jail, Samuel is taken away in a body bag. Scully tells the Sheriff that Samuel was alone in his cell when Mulder left him. She wants to know how he could have died. The Sheriff tells her that Samuel started a fight and died before the ambulance arrived. Reverend Hartley pulls up and accuses Daniels of responsibility for Samuel's death. The Sheriff ignores him, while Scully tells the Reverend she's sorry for his loss.

In the now-empty court room, Mulder is searching for something. Scully asks him what he's looking for but he only says 'clues'. On the building's roof, he finds a trail of potato pieces leading into the ventilation system and postulates that someone led the grasshoppers into the building this way. He believes whoever set this up is responsible for the murders, and it shouldn't be too difficult to find out who bought a large supply of grasshoppers recently.

Back at Reverend Hartley's mansion, Vance is sleeping. He awakes suddenly to see a bloody Samuel standing at the foot of his bed. Samuel has a ghostly glow around him. Vance is horrified, and tells Samuel he thought he was dead. Samuel asks Vance why he betrayed him, and accuses him of murdering those people, even after Samuel gave Vance back his life. Vance holds out his arms, asking Samuel how he can consider existence with such a badly scarred body, life.

Downstairs, Reverend Hartley answers a knock at the front door. It's Mulder and Scully with Daniels, and they have an arrest warrant for Vance. They've traced Vance's pesticide order from a chemical company in Knoxville. Vance had placed an order for cyanogen bromide, a cyanide derivative.

Upstairs, they find Vance lying on his bed trembling. Daniels tells him he's under arrest, but Vance only responds 'I betrayed him'. Scully sniffs Vance's water glass and says it contains cyanide. Mulder wants to call an ambulance but Scully says there's no time--they'll have to take him to the hospital themselves. She reaches out to unclasp Vance's arms but he flinches and tells them that Samuel had been there only moments before. The Sheriff claims that Vance is delirious but Vance insists that Samuel was there, and he forgave him. With that, Vance dies.

Back in her motel room, Scully writes her report, stating that Vance aimed to kill the Miracle Ministry's faith in Samuel, and that there is conclusive evidence linking him to the poisoning and to the grasshoppers in the courtroom. In his motel room Mulder packs away his sister's photo. As Scully packs her laptop away, Mulder knocks on her door, saying that Daniels just called, and Samuel's body is missing from the morgue.

At the morgue, Mulder asks a Sheriff's deputy if there were any witnesses who may be able to provide some clues regarding the disappearance of Samuel's body. The deputy says only one--the night nurse, Beatrice Salinger. She claims to have seen Samuel walk out by himself. She tells Mulder that he walked right by her, and that his face was black and blue. When she checked the morgue, Samuel's body was gone. The Sheriff dismisses the nurse, saying it's crazy talk, but she tells him she's not the only one who saw Samuel.

Outside his house, the Sheriff pauses and takes his hat off. Inside, his disabled wife, Lillian, asks him if Samuel's reincarnation is true, and if he wasn't a fake after all. Daniels can't answer her. She starts to cry. There is a knock at the door. It's Deputy Tyson and he says the district attorney has some questions about Samuel's death. Daniels looks resigned.

Mulder and Scully watch as the Miracle Ministry tent is taken down. Mulder suspects that Reverend Hartley will pop up again soon enough--that Samuel's death may have strengthened his faith. Scully says she hopes the reverend didn't make Samuel's body disappear as a 'miracle of miracles' but Mulder tells Scully that he doesn't think so. He thinks people are looking hard for miracles--so hard that maybe they make themselves see what they want to see. As he is about to climb into the car, he sees his sister's reflection in the window, but when he turns around, there's nobody there. He gets in the car, and they drive away.

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

  • The Bible passage that Mulder reads about the plague of locusts is Exodus 10:13 - a very significant number for The X-Files! Plattie
  • Some Philes have noted a continuity glitch with the teaser sequence when Vance's charred arm seems to move before the young Samuel touches him and brings him to life.
  • On considering the exploitative nature of Reverend Hartley, as well as the single-minded and dishonest resolve of Sherriff Daniels, both men seem blinded by their convictions. Interestingly, those convictions are poles apart--Daniel's willingness to murder and Hartley's willingness to profit off of other's beliefs, for example.
  • Mulder's multiple sightings of a girl who looks similar to Samantha seems like a plot device that was grafted on as an after thought--perhaps by one of Chris Carter's contributors. This element adds nothing to the episode. Certainly the idea was more effectively executed in Beyond The Sea.
  • There are a couple of troubling questions about Samuel's death and resurrection.. Based on what we know, we never see his actual death--only the implication of it after two men enter his cell and we see and hear the beginning of his beating. In addition, there's no evidence that Scully ever gets the opportunity to do an autopsy. While the following scenario is hypothetical, perhaps Samuel authentically staged his own death. Perhaps during the beating or afterwards, if he was alive after the attack, he injected himself with tetrodotoxin, a biological ion channel blocker that can be found in some exotic breeds of Puffer Fish, which simulates death in people. When used in minuscule doses, a person's metabolic functions are so depressed that a person appears to be deceased. While it's true that Samuel was experiencing such an overwhelming remorse in having lost his gift at healing that he felt he deserved death, faking his death could have given him a much-needed opportunity to escape from the Ministry and eventuate a new start.
  • If the self-poisoning theory of Samuel is possible, then when Vance thought he was witnessing Samuel's resurrected spirit, it was in fact Samuel, himself. Having assessed the true cause behind the deaths of the Miracle Ministry's congregation members, he went to Vance's house to confront him with his accountability. Or perhaps Scully was right and the apparition was one driven by Vance's guilt--his subconscious mind manifesting the vision, as well as providing a moral justification for him to commit suicide.
  • During Scully's autopsy of Margaret Hohman, it has been noted that Scully makes an unrealistic leap in explaining how Margaret died. There are many possible causes for cellular hypoxia. The term simply refers to oxygen deprivation to the cells and is not at all strictly suggestive of poisoning. Had Margaret exhibited the symptoms that a victim of cyanogen bromide poisoning would actually suffer, as would have been related by her parents, then Scully might have been able to at least consider such a diagnosis. But, in fact, we see Margaret sitting in the audience, showing absolutely no signs of distress or discomfort, until the last moment. Therefore, her parents couldn't have provided any insightful clues. Furthermore, we're pretty much aware of the type of cases Scully has encountered in her fledging career thus far, so it's extremely doubtful she would have been able to recognize the physiologic pathological signs on mere sight.

Episode Summary / Points to consider / Production analysis

Writer Saul Bellows once commented, "Science had made a house cleaning of belief." One of the recurring themes of The X-Files concerns the issue or struggle of faith vs. reason, as well as the debate between the strictures of scientific inquiry and the desire to believe in something more. There's a very real argument to be made that this issue is the central subtext that drives the show--that in effect, The X-Files is simply a mediation on the meaning of faith in its very broadest forms. While the episode isn't the most effective attempt at addressing the faith issue, it doesn't paint people of sincere faith negatively, as much as it criticizes the more commercial aspects of ministries like Hartley's "Miracle Ministry". Two technical areas should be noted: Mark Snow's score is highly effective--especially early on in the episode when the gothic organ theme undermines the religious celebrations. Also of note, Toby Lindala and Fern Levin's make-up for Leonard Vance is subtle yet unsettling.

The location for Reverend Hartley's house was found in Fort Langley on River Drive. Considering that the episode was set in Tennessee, a grand southern look was needed. Given the nature of the show's night work at such a location, a night-lighting setup and wind machines--such obvious choices for established neighborhoods such as Shaughnessy or South Vancouver--caused restrictions on night filming, which drove the location managers to use Langley. Actor Don S. Davis, who had played Scully's father, was the dialect coach for this episode, insuring the actors had their southern accents correct.

Actor Scott Bairstow who played Samuel Hartley, prior to working on The X-Files was known for playing disillusioned gunslinger Newt Call on the Lonesome Dove television series. Bairstow had worked with Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa on their pilot for Country Estates. Howard Gordon has recalled in Cinefantastique: "I called him to specifically read for this part. He was doing White Fang 2 and he had a three-picture deal at Disney, and his agent wasn't letting him do television. So I called Scott directly and implored him to do it. He read the script and he loved it." *

Mr. Bairstow's career has ranged from features to television. He hails from Manitoba, Canada. His parents, Douglas and Diane, both played with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Presently, Douglas is their principle oboe player. Bairstow has two children and is presently divorced after facing some legal trouble concerning an indictment in Washington State in 2004. His feature film work includes The Bone Snatcher, Tuck Everlasting, New Best Friend, The Postman, Wild America, and Black Circle Boys. He played Lt. Thomas Hobbes on the short lived 1013 Production series, Harsh Realm. His other television appearances include Touched By An Angel, Breaking News, Party of Five, and Significant Others.

Actor R. D. Call who played Sheriff Maurice Daniels is probably best remembered for his ruthless portrayal of Jude Andrews, the government killer from a CIA like organization known as The Shop in Steven King's Golden Years miniseries. His feature film work includes Babel, Dark Heart, I Am Sam, Waterworld, Other People's Money, Young Guns II, Born On The Fourth of July, Colors, and 48 Hrs. His television appearances include Supernatural, Family Law, Walker: Texas Ranger, Diagnosis Murder, EZ Streets, Murder, She Wrote, V, Little House on the Prairie, and Barnaby Jones.

Dennis Lipscomb who plays Leonard Vance, has built up a solid body of work. Hailing from Westbury, New York, he was trained as a Shakespearian actor and earned a master's degree from the University of Iowa. His first significant starring role was the lead in Union City (1980). His feature film work includes Firetrap, Undercover Blues, Under Siege, Crossroads, A Soldier's Story, War Games, and Love Child. His television appearances include The Guardian, The Invisible Man, Roswell, Diagnosis Murder, Party of Five, Melrose Place, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, ER, Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, L.A. Law, Falcon Crest, Amazing Stories, Moonlighting, Hill Street Blues, and The Greatest American Hero.

* Quote source: "Cinefantastique" - Vol. 26 No. 6/Vol 27 No.1, October 1995, "Episode Guide", Paula Vitaris

Episode synopsisand review: Plattie
Production notes: Matt allair
Page Editor: XScribe

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